JOURNAL ARTICLE

Visual attention to dynamic faces and objects is linked to face processing skills: a combined study of children with autism and controls

Julia Parish-Morris, Coralie Chevallier, Natasha Tonge, Janelle Letzen, Juhi Pandey, Robert T Schultz
Frontiers in Psychology 2013, 4: 185
23596436
Although the extant literature on face recognition skills in Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) shows clear impairments compared to typically developing controls (TDC) at the group level, the distribution of scores within ASD is broad. In the present research, we take a dimensional approach and explore how differences in social attention during an eye tracking experiment correlate with face recognition skills across ASD and TDC. Emotional discrimination and person identity perception face processing skills were assessed using the Let's Face It! Skills Battery in 110 children with and without ASD. Social attention was assessed using infrared eye gaze tracking during passive viewing of movies of facial expressions and objects displayed together on a computer screen. Face processing skills were significantly correlated with measures of attention to faces and with social skills as measured by the Social Communication Questionnaire (SCQ). Consistent with prior research, children with ASD scored significantly lower on face processing skills tests but, unexpectedly, group differences in amount of attention to faces (vs. objects) were not found. We discuss possible methodological contributions to this null finding. We also highlight the importance of a dimensional approach for understanding the developmental origins of reduced face perception skills, and emphasize the need for longitudinal research to truly understand how social motivation and social attention influence the development of social perceptual skills.

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